THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair, 2015)
Vietnam was a war that was technically won by the Viet Cong but which American are reluctant to concede to having lost. The unnamed Vietnamese Army Captain narrating this tale has sympathies with both sides but this only serves to place him between a rock and a hard place.
As a reluctant revolutionary he pleads guilty to the charge of being westernized, admitting: “If longing for riches made me a Occidentalist, I confess to it”. As a uncomitted communist he sees no attraction in the authentic “rustic realities” of village life in Saigon.
While not being blind to the faults of the US, he recognizes that there is more freedom of speech than in his homeland. This, together with air conditioning, an efficient traffic system and the modernist novel are among the other things that he admires. On the down side, he reviles the American knack for putting a positive spin on defeat and for hyping up the benefits of individualism. Continue reading
The Coal Miner’s Daughter directed by Michael Apted (1980)
I’m not a huge fan of traditional Nashville Country but listening to the fine Celilo Falls album by Rachel Harrington, drew me to one of that singer’s main inspirations.
I didn’t see this movie when it came out and didn’t really know a lot about Loretta Lynn‘s life.
It gives a highly entertaining, if somewhat rose-tinted, summary of Loretta’s rise from humble beginnings to her iconic status as “the first lady of country music”.
Hollywood’s account is not intended as social realism so the poverty of her upbringing in the Kentucky coal mining community is very romanticised and there’s quite a heavy gloss too on her husband, Doolittle ‘Doo’ Lynn (b.1926). Continue reading
I never had any plans to travel to the Missouri Ozark region and certainly won’t be rushing to go after seeing Winter’s Bone. I’m sure it has beautiful lakes, historical sites and fine wines , but the movie shows that it also has godforsaken areas where grinding poverty is the norm.
The movie is based on Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel, part of a fictional series he has called Country Noir. The main character is 17-year-old Ree Dolly who has to provide for her sick and depressed mother and younger brother and sister. Her father, Jessup, has disappeared seemingly to evade a drug related charge and certain gaol. He has jumped bail and ,since the family home has been put up as collateral, Ree and her family stand to lose everything if he can’t be traced (dead or alive). This is no easy task since the community Ree lives among is governed by strict codes administered by a violent patriarchy headed by ‘Thump’ Milton (no need to ask how it got that nickname!).
Ree is a determined and ,in the circumstances, incredibly well-balanced individual. The can of worms she uncovers as she tries to find out the fate of her father leads to a gruesome finale.
Jennifer Lawrence is quite outstanding in the role of the fearless and resilient Ree and she has deservedly been nominated for an Oscar. John Hawkes as is also great as her father’s brother (Teardrop) torn between family loyalty and the need not to break ranks in this primal hierarchy. Continue reading